Hanging Onto Faith
In Syracuse, poverty is widespread. More than 34 percent of residents live below the national average. As a result, Syracuse is one of the most impoverished cities in New York.
Charles “Chuck” Hanlan is one of those residents struggling to get by. Hanlan hasn’t had a job in over six years and currently survives with the support of public assistance. He receives a monthly income of $300 and food stamps.
Hanlan currently lives in Gifford Place, the Rescue Mission’s long-term housing program. His rent at Gifford Place uses the majority of his public assistance, which leaves him with barely any money to spend on basic necessities.
To make up for the lack of money, Hanlan volunteers five days a week at the Rescue Mission’s Clothing Outreach Program, which allows him to receive donated items from the program.
When he’s not volunteering, Hanlan uses his time to look for work, searching for help-wanted signs and employers willing to hand out applications. He knows his community and his country continue to struggle, but he is determined to find work.
Faith has always been a guiding light in Hanlan’s life. Growing up in Belize, his mother and grandmother introduced him to religion. Hanlan admitted his family was a catalyst for his faith.
In 1990, Hanlan and his family moved to New York City. While at school in Brooklyn, N.Y., he struggled to remain focused on his studies and prayed to God he would graduate.
As he progressed through high school, Hanlan struggled with reading, something he’s had a difficulty with his whole life. Although he knew some English, he was still learning it. When he graduated, Hanlan felt he didn’t have the education he needed to get a job.
“I loved high school and wanted to learn,” Hanlan said. “It was so disappointing to graduate without the basic skills I needed to get a job and make it as an adult.”
In an attempt to learn more marketable skills, he enrolled in the Cassadaga Job Corps in Cassadaga, N.Y., in 1997. While there, Hanlan met a woman, which led to a relationship. Two years later he made a decision to relocate with her, which prevented him from graduating the full program.
Eventually moving to Syracuse, Hanlan began to struggle in multiple areas of his life. He was unable to find a steady job, and he broke up his off-and-on relationship with his girlfriend while she was pregnant with their second child.
While on his own, Hanlan continued to have unstable employment. After finally landing a stable job at Midstate Spring in East Syracuse, Hanlan began a new relationship. It lasted only three months, long enough for Hanlan to have his third child.
Following the birth of his third child, Hanlan was injured on the job and suffered a back injury with nerve damage. A doctor told him if he continued to work without recovering he could be in a wheelchair for life.
Ignoring the doctor’s advice, Hanlan took it upon himself to go back to work to provide for his kids. While at work, he was reinjured and almost lost his hand.
The combined injuries forced him to quit his job, give up everything he owned and head back to New York City to live with his mother.
“I couldn’t afford rent anymore,” he said. “I was already behind in payments and my injuries made it worse. So moving back to my mother’s where I could recover for a while was the best option.”
Hanlan stayed at home with his mother for five years, allowing his injuries to heal.
When he arrived back in Syracuse, he was on his own but determined to support himself. To stay self-reliant, he set a goal of not depending on his mother for help.
With the little funds raised before he left quickly spent on food, and nowhere to stay, Hanlan slept at the bus terminal for four nights.
On the fifth day, Hanlan ran into a stranger who told him about the Rescue Mission. Not knowing what it was, he headed there with hopes of finding a place to stay for the night.
He moved into the Mission’s men’s shelter and eventually into Gifford Place, where he has now lived for more a year. Hanlan has been attending the Mission’s church, and has remained truthful to his faith.
Hanlan believes in the mission’s cause, and volunteers five days a week at the Rescue Mission’s Clothing Outreach Program. To Hanlan, working for the program is a sign of thanks for the blessings the mission has provided him.
“At the Rescue Mission, I’ve learned it’s all about giving back,” he said, “and the Outreach Center helps so many people that have been in my shoes.”
Now, after six months at the Outreach Program, Hanlan has been given the opportunity to get a job. He’s working in training more than 25 hours a week.
To Hanlan, the struggles he’s had in his life were a test from God. He knows that the Rescue Mission has helped him succeed, but he doesn’t only credit the Mission for his progress.
“God has opened doors for me to put me in the right direction,” Hanlan said. “I know the Mission has done a lot for me, but God has been making these great changes in my life.”